Afghanistan's National Development Strategy (ANDS), launched in 2008, is the main national document prepared by the government of Afghanistan that deals with improving the state of affairs in the country taking into consideration all its related aspects. It is the developmental master plan for the country that initially aims to cover a 5-year period between 2008 and 2013. The plan has laid down a vision for achieving improvement in the areas of security, governance and rule of law, human rights, economic and social development and poverty reduction and makes a determined move towards achieving the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015.
One of the important areas of concern in this master plan that has so far been largely left out of debate and discussion by the civil society and government is sustainable development. Afghanistan's National Development Strategy (ANDS) emphasizes the critical role of not only development but sustainable development in the future of the country and in fact sets out to marry the development process in the country with the goal of sustainability. Let us first see what sustainable development as opposed to development mean and what its significance is in the context of Afghanistan.
Development, to start with, is the process of making use of all the resources available to a nation and country in order to bring lasting improvements to the lives of its people and citizens and bring about better standards of living for all of them. Naturally, it involves economic growth and rising incomes as a result of making use of the natural resources available within a country. Abundant water resources, rich mines and mineral deposits, expansive swaths of fertile land for agriculture, a young and energetic young population and many others are the resources that our country Afghanistan has in its disposal.
However, the process of development in Afghanistan has halted in tracks, owing to decades of war, conflict and instability as well as lack of a will on the part of successive governments to seriously pursue the path of development. Sustainable development differs from simple development in that it tries to preserve and protect the environment for the use by future generations. It tries to make the process of development such that it does not result in destruction of environment and wasting of scarce resources that a country and nation has. In other words, sustainable development not only takes into consideration fulfilling the needs and requirements of now but also the needs and requirements of a nation many years into the future. Therefore, development for Afghanistan should also be sustainable because otherwise, 30 or 40 years from now, it would not be possible for the country to maintain itself and its growing population.
For example, keeping the environment and the ecological system of the country from destruction in both cities and rural areas is and should be a high priority. The population of the country keeps rising and people increasingly migrate to cities and towns from villages. This process of migration is set to accelerate in coming years and the result will be an immense pressure on the ability of cities and towns of Afghanistan to provide the minimum of support to these vast volumes of people. The challenge, therefore, in front of the government is how to manage these coming massive shifts in population and demographics. In any case, as rightly laid down by ANDS's document, it is sustainable development rather than only development that is the real and the pressing need of Afghanistan at present and in the future.
The first step towards successfully implementing this vision of sustainable development for Afghanistan is, in the first place, creating a government that is capable of delivering on this vision. Is the government in Afghanistan, in its current form and shape, able and capable of ensuring development that is sustainable? Bringing about simple development in a context like Afghanistan appears to be very difficult let alone enforcing a vision of sustainable development. Anyhow, for Afghanistan to be able to provide for its people in the long run, sustainability of development is a must.
The process of bidding and handing over the Aynak copper mine in Logar has been completed and the winner is China's Metallurgical Group. Likewise, bidding and selection of the extracting company for the Hajigak iron ore mine in Bamyan will be completed by the end of this year. As the experience from other resource-rich but poor countries similar to Afghanistan in Asia, Africa and Latin America shows, Afghanistan should be extremely careful in giving its mines to foreign companies for extraction. This is because in these similar Asian and African countries, the result has largely been environmental destruction and very little financial benefit for the host government and local people.
In Africa and Latin America, foreign and multi-national companies, which were given rights to extract local mines and mineral deposits, have caused widespread environmental destruction while the profits that go to the host governments have been very little compared to the actual profits. Moreover, given the fact that government in most of these countries is very corrupt, the financial benefits have not reached the local people but have usually got lost due to corruption and lack of transparency.
In many cases, local people under whose feet, the minerals and mines lie, have been displaced and forced to leave their homes, villages and lands to make way for the companies which would extract the mines. As I have said earlier, such a scenario for Afghanistan is very probable especially in Bamyan where the future extraction of the Hajigak iron mine will result in displacement of tens of thousands of poor local people and destruction of the fragile ecology and eco-system of that region. Here is where exactly the concept of sustainable development comes into the picture.
The government of Afghanistan should deliver on its responsibility to minimize the environmental destruction as a result of future mining projects in the country. On the other hand, it has to make sure that the financial benefits arising from these mining projects will reach also the poor people of the lower layers of our society who are the real owners of these mines and natural resources. The first step, as I said, is to have a democratic and accountable government in place that is willing, able and capable to ensure such an outcome. We do not yet have such a government in place.